Twenty-first century subjects of capitalist modernity and whatever postmodern condition lies beyond it have up to Now imagined themselves trapped in the world of imperial science. The world as seen through the telescopes and microscopes parodied by the Empress in Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World. That optical illusion became our world-picture or world-scene — our cognitive map — did it not? Globe Theatre projected outward as world-stage became Spaceship Earth, a Whole Earth purchasable through a stock exchange.
“I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming away,” sings Poly Styrene. “Didn’t you see the thin ice sign?” she asks. What I hear instead, though, is “the thing I signed.” How is one to beware if the message is always misheard?
A Raincoat follow with their spooky funky glam jam, “It Came in the Night.” What is one to do with this energy? Should I unplug myself from Spotify, as Neil Young has done? That would deprive me of much of my library. The problem is, my apartment lacks space for objects that store sound. Hence my dilemma this morning: I woke up wanting to listen to Sonic Youth’s Sister, an album I own on CD. It and the CD player on which I would play it, however, are elsewhere. Should that prevent me from being able to listen to it here and now?
Spotify replies to this dilemma by compressing space-time.
“Time-space compression”: that’s what communications technologies do. Marxist geographer David Harvey writes about it in his book The Condition of Postmodernity. Paul Virilio calls it an essential facet of capitalist life.
Spotify achieves this effect of time-space compression through an act of remediation. The consequences of this act are only just now entering consciousness. Initially, it seems rather simple: an algorithm selecting and streaming recorded bits of sound based on past listens. But not just your listens, by which I mean your listens to it. That’s where it goes strange. For Spotify forms a cybernetic system with its users, each element revising itself into subsequent iterations or becomings based on the other’s feedback — meaning listens occur both ways. Users of course listen, both actively and passively, to Spotify. But Spotify also listens to its users.
A friend plays me a tune — Fassbinder collaborator Monique Zetterlund’s “Ellinor Rydholm” — and the next day it shows up in my “Discover Weekly” playlist. Spooky, eh? What can I say? I love it. Without it, I might not have heard Yoko Ono and John Lennon. Yoko’s voice might not have whispered in my ear, “Remember love.” Buddy Holly might not have entranced me with his version of “Love is Strange.” Thurston Moore wouldn’t have told me, “Angels are dreaming of you,” as he does on “Cotton Crown.”
Bricoleurs can’t be choosers: but here I am imagining in the faces of those angels glimpses of you. I picture us eyeing each other on a dancefloor, approaching as in a circling manner ‘round an invisible pole. Pouts give way to smiles; fingers trace forearms; lips graze lips. By these means, distance is eradicated and contact reestablished, hope reborn.
“If the texts that students and I have been studying this semester are best referred to as ‘portal fantasies,’” thinks the part of me that persists here in the future, “then that, too, is the term to use in discussing the new AppleTV+ television series Severance. Characters in the show pass quite literally through one or more doors between worlds, living two separate lives.”
The show’s title refers to an imagined corporate procedure of the near-future that severs personhood. Those who volunteer to undergo this procedure emerge from it transformed into split subjects, each with its own distinct stream of memory.
As unlikely as this dystopian premise may seem, we can’t fully distance ourselves from it as viewers, given our severed personhood here “IRL,” or “AFK,” as the kids are fond of saying. “Others may not be quite as manifold as me,” admits the Narrator. “But each of us is Janus-faced. Each of us houses both a waking and a dreaming self, with each incapable of full memory of the other.”
And as the show advances, of course, we learn through a kind of detective work that the severance procedure isn’t in fact what it seems. The work-self (or “innie”) battles the home-self (or “outie”) — as do Superego and Id here at home.
There’s a story here to be told. Let there be magic. Note the power that Ishmael Reed grants to “Rev. Jefferson,” father of “Woodrow Wilson Jefferson” in Reed’s novel Mumbo Jumbo. Can I find my Text and become articulate? When asked to justify his power, Rev. Jefferson cites John 2:14. Christ booted the businessmen from the Temple. Let’s give Trump the boot. Fredric Jameson observed a use of pastiche in art and fiction produced under “postmodernity.” Postmodernism is a “cultural logic,” a “condition” felt and lived in our current historical period, the era of “late capitalism.” Pastiche is a style or mode adopted by artists in this period — a kind of “blank parody.” Reed’s novel, however, is satire of a critical bent. The book is a pointed, powerful criticism of Western civilization. Jameson included in his essay on “Postmodernism” a famous phenomenological description of his experience of a hotel in Los Angeles. Reed lived in Oakland, taught at Berkeley — lived the historical moment differently, constructs a rich elaborate allegory of the Nixon years. Reed decolonizes consciousness across millennia. Western ways of thinking are shown to be products of a racial policing of consciousness. It is a product of a certain kind of schooling, a cultural, religious, elite-controlled linguistic system. Reed turns economic events, depressions and the like (period markers for Marxists like Jameson) into signs of Voodoo Warfare, spells cast upon the Atonist imperium. Colonized people continue to wage war because the opponent, the white-supremacist adversary, poses a threat to survival, making it difficult to breathe. The latter group’s rituals of capitalist development and production are destroying the planet. Money is the Atonist order’s currency — the god to be worshiped above all others. The thing that money’s chasing, however, the thing it’s trying to “bop” or “co-opt” is an “anti-plague,” a source of cultural vitality and invention imagined to be “carried” by people of color (but capable of spread to others). The “contagion” metaphor that fuels Atonist thought, the white racist fear of a spreading blackness, the fear of becoming a “white minority”: this entire style of thought is absorbed into Reed’s novel. The result, though, is not “pastiche” or “blank parody.” Reed “signifies with a difference,” as Henry Louis Gates Jr. argues. Contagion is blanked of its negative connotations, as what spreads is what saves. “Jes Grew” is the spirit of Osiris seeking to reassemble the pre-Atonist ancient Egyptian past. People “catch the spirit”; they’re moved by it. They’re lifted up, buoyed by the likes of Bobby McFerrin. “Don’t Worry Be Happy” is the letter sent, the message received. So I think as I ponder the day.
I miss living in neighborhoods where people sit around together outdoors talking and listening to music. It happens sometimes — but so much of the current era’s technology is too small for sound to be shared by random parties, large gatherings, our bodies all wiggling on the dance floor to the same felt vibrations. What this allows, however, is silent, adoring contemplation of the magical languages of birds. A wonderful loud one with a high-pitched cry in a branch a mere few feet above me. The hippie modernists tried to communicate to us, in however fragmentary a way, a genuinely new, experimental, loving way of being, each psychedelic head of the General Intellect projecting in works of art back to others diamond-dimensioned reflections of the total picture. Classrooms should be spaces where we learn to hang out with others. Announce straightforwardly that we’re sifting through the artifactual rubble of the last period of revolution in American history, looking for keys to unlock the Age of Aquarius. (For those who wish to enlist in this cause, check out Vera W. Reid’s Towards Aquarius. Weird, interesting mythological thinking, at the very least. But also quite possibly a clue. Then again, maybe just New Age fantasy. My sense is that the astrology is gibberish, meant only as a means of transmitting a poetic sentiment: humanity’s great wish, the wish for a New Age.) Was there not always some revolutionary promise there? For those of us born after the 1960s, in the age of postmodernity, ours has been “a time when faith in modern science’s founding sacraments — its claims to unimpeachable objectivity, axiomatic certitude, and autonomy from the prejudices of power — is rapidly disintegrating,” as Andrew Ross notes, “under the pressure not only of demythologizing critics and activists within the priesthood, but also from the thoroughgoing historical critiques of scientism waged by feminists and ecologists with one foot in the door, and from public disaffection with science’s starring role in the grisly drama of global degradation” (Strange Weather, p. 22). I am an Acid Communist, a Dharma Revolutionary. I subscribe to a cosmology in which consciousness interacts with what appears to consciousness: a 3-D immersive parallelogram of dynamic bodies, forces, and energies. And consciousness is no fixed vantage-point, no mere camera-eye; like the world it reflects, it’s always growing and changing. I’m willing to organize around whatever helps us go on ahead.
Why is so much of the Nuggets anthology mired in thwarted romance, love unrequited? What role did that trope occupy in the 60s zeitgeist? Garage rockers were teens on hormonal and drug-induced bad trips, not yet woke to psychedelic love. The group situated on the precipice of these two modes was The Chocolate Watchband, particularly on their classic, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.”
Dudes who elsewhere in their discography display the genre’s signature: an unhealthy relationship to booze, to women, and to sexuality, away from which the band retreats into beautiful reverb- and distortion-drenched sonic floating zendos like their glorious track, “Dark Side of the Mushroom.”
What we find throughout the era of hippie modernism are works that cultivate a keen sense of group identity — youth as members of a shared Age. Take the collective “we” in the following timeline of the Beat Generation as proposed by Allen Ginsberg: “We’d already had, by ’48,” he told an interviewer, “some sort of alteration of our own private consciousness; by ’55 we had made some kind of public articulation of it; by ’58 it had spread sufficiently so that the mass media were coming around for information.” And as Leerom Medovoi notes, the Beats utilized this attention from the mass media “to wage an impressively successful campaign affirming their own version of what a ‘beat generation’ of young Americans meant” — the group thus building for itself “a reputation as the legitimate representatives of the young” (Rebels, p. 221).